80. Metaphysics of Modernity: What Makes Societies Thrive. By Ulrich Steinvorth. ISBN 978-0-87462-821-0. Paperback. 308 pages. Bibliography. Index. List price: $29.00
The author makes 3 claims. The historical claim that the pursuit of intrinsic goals, taken up by the Renaissance humanists from Plato and Aristotle and developed by 17th and 18th century scientists, merchants, and artists, made the modern age successful. The normative claim that the same orientation toward intrinsic goals should orient the solution of present social problems. The diagnostic claim that some of the grave present economic, political, and cultural problems arise from an orientation toward extrinsic rather than intrinsic goals. The crucial orientation toward intrinsic goals is a metaphysics that is to be preserved. This basic difference demarcates his position from other authors, in particular from Marx and Max Weber
Does the modern age have a specific attitude to the world, a way to make sense of the myriad stimuli that impinge on human organisms or, as I call it, a metaphysics? This book claims it has. It shows that what crucially changed Europe from the 16th century on was the spreading idea that things are best done for their own sake, for goals inherent in an activity, such as the goal of telling a good story or having a lively chat inheres in the telling or chatting itself. The Renaissance took this idea from the ancients who too preferred “intrinsic” goals to “extrinsic” ones, but the moderns discovered that the pursuit of intrinsic goals follows an immanent rationality that sets perfection standards to the activity.
Thus, they could and did perfect activities that in antiquity had remained on the level of dabbling leisure time activities and transformed them into professions that we know today as theology, science, political theory, the arts, sports, or journalism. The European bourgeoisie, though, performed the most revolutionary yet also suicidal change. They made traditional trade, the pursuit of the extrinsic goal of acquiring money, into an activity done for its own sake and enforced autonomy for its sphere, just as the religious had enforced autonomy for their religious activities already in the 11th century. They were so successful that they could take over the command of production in the industrial revolution and impose on all other spheres of society their goal of private profitability.
This was the historical end of the metaphysics of modernity. But this book also argues that its principle, the preference of intrinsic to extrinsic goals, is still the best attitude to the world we can choose and that it is the best starting point for solving many problems of contemporary societies.
Ulrich Steinvorth: About the Authhor: Starting as an analytic philosopher under the supervision of Günther Patzig, Ulrich Steinvorth turned to political philosophy without losing interest in Wittgenstein and problems of the philosophy of mind. He considers contemporary political and social problems the greatest challenge for philosophy. He taught many years at German universities, five years at the Bilkent University in Ankara, one year at the Tokyo University and at several other universities in different countries for shorter periods. Presently he is living in Kennesaw, GA.